Accreditation is a system for recognizing educational institutions and professional programs affiliated with those institutions for a level of performance, integrity, and quality which entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and the public they serve.
In the United States, this recognition is extended primarily through nongovernmental, voluntary institutional or professional associations. These groups establish criteria for accreditation, arrange site visits, evaluate those institutions and professional programs which desire accredited status, and publicly designate those which meet their criteria.
In most other countries, the establishment and maintenance of educational standards is the responsibility of a central government bureau. In the United States, however, public authority in education is constitutionally reserved to the states. This system of voluntary nongovernmental evaluation, called accreditation, has evolved to promote both regional and national approaches to the determination of educational quality.
Although accreditation is basically a private, voluntary process, accrediting decisions are used as a consideration in many formal actions -- by governmental funding agencies, scholarship commissions, foundations, employers, counselors, and potential students. Accrediting agencies, therefore, come to be viewed as quasi-public entities with certain responsibilities to the many groups which interact with the educational community.
In America, accreditation at the postsecondary level performs a number of important functions, including the encouragement of efforts toward maximum educational effectiveness. The accrediting process requires institutions and programs to examine their goals, activities, and achievements; to consider the expert criticism and suggestions of a visiting team; and to determine internal procedures for action on recommendations from the accrediting agency.
Since accreditation status is reviewed on a periodic basis, recognized institutions and professional programs are encouraged to maintain continuous self-study and improvement mechanisms. (Directory of Recognized Accrediting Agencies and Supporters of Accreditation, Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation [CORPA], 1995).
Accreditation of educational programs for the occupational therapist and the occupational therapy assistant is granted by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The ACOTE is recognized as the accrediting agency for occupational therapy education by the United States Department of Education ( USDE) and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Accreditation by an agency recognized by the USDE is one of the conditions qualifying an educational institution or program (free standing) to participate in federal funding programs. Placement on the list of recognized accrediting agencies also serves consumer interests by acknowledging an accrediting body's ability to identify institutions or programs of quality.
Federal legislation requires the U.S. Secretary of Education to publish a list of the accrediting agencies the Secretary recognizes as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education offered by educational institutions or programs.
The criteria and procedures developed by the Department for its evaluations and the list of agencies granted national recognition are published in the Federal Register. Pamphlets published and distributed periodically by the Accrediting Agency Evaluation Branch (AAEB) also ensure public access to this information.